The support for specific learning difficulties and disabilities at UCA is handled two main ways. Both of these ways are discussed but not in any particular order of importance. Firstly learning support assistants (lsas) are utilised. These work one to one with students in an attempt to ‘level the playing field’ in the classroom. This is achieved through the lsas working alongside students who might otherwise be disadvantaged by a special need. These students are supported by learning support assistants. Probably the clearest guidance for how schools or other educational institutions should utilise lsa support is given in the guidance by the Department for Education and Science (DFES 2000), which makes the important point that support for individual students is support for all students as teachers are freed up to look after all students instead of exclusively supporting those with pressing problems (p. 8). In the area of PCET the Learning and Skills: Improvement Service (LSIS) has also published guides outlining the most effective ways to utilise lsa support (LSIS 2011). I worked at UCA as an lsa during 2013. We were told that at no time were we to give a student we were supporting an advantage over students.
Learning support is provided in a number of ways these include but are not limited to clarifying and explaining instructions, ensuring the student is able to use necessary equipment – this is especially important when studying a practical subject, motivating and encouraging the student. The role of encourager is particularly important as often students with disabilities feel less confident than their peers. An lsa might provide assistance in areas of specific weakness, such as spoken language or writing skills. An lsa is often trained in dyslexia support. A specific task of an lsa might well be to help learners to concentrate on and finish work. This can be a more significant problem with learners with problems such as ADHD as the students find it difficult to remain focussed on the task in hand. It is not unusual to find lsas who attend to students’ personal and health needs. Lsas can even be asked to develop appropriate teaching resources to support students. In the case of students with behavioural issues the lsa will probably have role in developing the students own ability to manage social interactions so that they become better integrated within the class.
The extensive and robust use of lsas at UCA allows teachers to manage their time fairly within their classrooms. Many of the tasks an LSA undertakes are intended to free the teacher to focus on the specialism being taught without being tied down focusing on a small group of learners who may need additional support.
For all the reasons given above and probably many more I would argue that the lsa within UCA and other institutions has a particularly important role.
The adaptation of the teaching environment to facilitate the participation of students with disabilities is an important form of ‘widening participation’. Students with disabilities are supported through on site adaptations. Some of these adaptations are required by law. On site adaptations include, but again are not limited to, ramps and lifts as well as other alternatives to stairs. Much can be achieved through improved or adapted signage and shelf guides. Examples of specially adapted equipment might include pcs on low level desks, height adjustable (tilt) desks and chairs, dictaphones for recording and listening back to tutorials or lectures.
In UCA technology is available in the E-Zone where students can use and gain access to assistive software such as Inspiration and MindView to help with brainstorming. Students can also access text help read and write speech software to help with writing essays. Students can also access large screen